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Hawaiian Conflict Resolution Cocktail

by eloepthien on September 20th, 2010

The Hawaiian islands, that offer so much abundance and beauty on a tiny space, are a source for great wisdom for community living. The Hawaiians, who spent months in one canoe with their whole families (including mother in laws), know how to embrace conflict and harvest the sweet fruits of connection and creativity that are hidden inside of it.

At a recent workshop in Waldenburg, Germany I met the Hawaiian teacher M. Kalani Souza*, who is one of the few natives that were taught the old ways. Among a wealth of other things, he shared some quick steps and principles for embracing conflict. It is best to practice these standing up with movement. As in the moment of crisis we need to have a trained response reflex in our bodies that prevents us from backing away.

Become a Cowboy

Stand with your legs shoulder wide apart and put your right hand into the back pocket of your pants. Imagine an offense and pull out your hand as quickly as possible, like a cowboy his colt. Hold it up with your palm towards your face. “Write” a message onto this hand, remember it always and read it out aloud as you pull the hand up:

“Conflict is an opportunity for positive change! Or in short: Conflict is a chance.”

These statements are true, as most of us have experienced at least a few times. They help us to not shrink back when the heat arises, but to stay and get ready to work it out. Only when we stay, we will be able to harvest the sweet fruits of opportunity that this conflict brought to us.

Now keep holding your hand up and turn it around, so that its backside is facing you. “Write” the second message on this side of the hand:

“People are reasonable! If they act unreasonably, it is for a good reason.”

It is especially hard to embrace a conflict with a partner that is acting irrationally angry or hurt. Yet this is a reaction that has a reason and that makes perfect sense for that person in that moment. Open your heart to listen to what that person says, so he or she can get a chance to decompress. Let them tell their story and keep asking the question “Why?”. If not to them, ask yourself, what the reasons for this could be. We will experience that after the storm peace comes and even gratitude. Your partner will be grateful for you bearing witness for his or her emotions that needed to be expressed.

Now, while keeping your right hand up, pull your left hand up, too, the palm towards your face. Connect this side of this hand with the third message, copied from a Rolling Stones’ song. You can say it aloud or even better sing it:

“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you may find that you get what you need.”

We know what this means. It is at the same time hard to accept as well as a big relieve to see that what we want isn’t always what we need. It is important to know as clearly as possible what it is that we need, because that need is fundamental for the resolution of our conflict. Being really transparent about your needs can save so much time and energy.

The last step is to turn that left hand around, too. The backside, that is now facing you, stands for two questions that help you determine your strategy. Look at your hand and say aloud these two questions:
1. What relationship do I want with this person?
2. What is my goal?

Practice this routine as often as you can, to get it into your body. And read on for an intro to

The Five Strategies in Dealing with Conflict

1. Avoidance: The turtle pulls head and legs in and is just not available. This makes sense when neither the relationship is important to you, nor you are pursuing a special goal. Total strangers that cut into the line in front of you could be an example for this.

2. Competition: The shark has a high priority goal, which is to eat you, and it does not care about your relationship at all. Playing the competitive role feels rude and in my opinion it mostly is, but in situations where your goal is important and the relationship is not, it might make sense.

3. Accommodation: The teddy bear has big ears as in good listener and his mouth cannot talk. It says “whatever you want is fine with me” all the time. Someone that always plays out this strategy will suffer from loss of self-worth. In situations when you do not have an important goal in mind and you care a lot about the relationship, it could be a good choice to accommodate.

4. Compromise: What is often called the ideal way to solve a conflict is in fact just postponing the battle. The fox is smart and keeps suggesting new compromises to get someone to give up what they really need. In reality compromise often means that although everyone focuses on his or her own needs, nobody’s needs get met in the end, so frustration will be the result.

5. Collaboration: In any situation where we value the relationship AND want to reach a goal, we should go for nothing less than collaboration. The owl has big eyes and can see in the dark depths of the conflict. It is the one that keeps asking “Why” and thus it will find out the needs of the other person. A collaborative solution starts with one partner actually caring for the needs of the other more than for his own needs. This seems like a courageous step, but it is likely to work and trigger a response of the other caring back for our needs.
This whole set of movement that have a meaning is a great tool to be practiced playfully with adults and, in a varied form, with children as well.

* M. Kalani Souza is the chairman of the Indigenous Knowledge Hui of the Pacific Risk Management Ohana, a collection of federal, state, county and non governmental agencies who work primarily to mitigate and respond to disasters in the greater pacific region. He also serves as a cultural competency consultant for a variety of other organizations and networks and has many years of experience in practicing and teaching conflict resolution all over the world. As a “puna hele”, one who drinks from the source, he carries the ancestral knowledge and traditions of the Hawaiian people. You can find more information about him here:

From → Community, Leadership

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